If your wine tasted "funny," your wine may have been shocked. As a chemically volatile substance, wine suffers from two distinct kinds of shock: bottle shock, and travel shock. There is scientific evidence for the former, lots of anecdotal evidence for the latter, but I personally think that they both exist and that both effect the drinkability of your wine. After all, how do you feel after you've rocketed down the highway at 65 in a warm car? Would you want anyone to base their assessment of you on the impression you gave as soon as you step out of the car and onto the pavement? (photo by Ian Britton from FreeFoto.com)
So what are bottle shock and travel shock? With respect to bottle shock, during bottling the wine is exposed to large amounts of oxygen and sometimes sulphur. These can alter the taste and smell of a wine, and not for the better. Sometime between a few weeks and a few months, this imbalance adjusts. Cameron Hughes described bottle shock in a recent email newsletter this way:
"The reality of bottle shock is that the wine, like a pendulum, will swing back and forth, in and out of consciousness, showing one week flabby and soft, and the next singing with bright acidity and no fruit. As well, they will appear muted, disjointed and likely to throw the flavors of one component wine over another. Also like a pendulum, however, these wines will stop swinging, settle down and become not only more consistent, but with fully formed bottle bouquet and considerable mid-palate definition and complexity."Usually, if a producer or merchant warns me of bottle shock issues, I wait to drink the wine for 2-6 months.
As for travel shock, there are importers, wine shippers, and drinkers who all report that their wine tastes flat after shipping, but that a few weeks sets the bottle to rights again. Is it the shaking? The temperature fluctuations? The agitation? Who knows. But I do think that it is kinder to your wine to let it sit for a while after it has been tossed around in a UPS truck. Usually, I wait 2-6 weeks to open the bottles I've received in the mail.
So if you wonder why there is such a long lag time between me happily reporting that I just got a shipment of wine and actually tasting the darn stuff, or wonder why I'm not guzzling my Cameron Hughes stash, it's because my wine is in shock--or at least I think it is. How about you? Do you believe in bottle shock? Travel shock? Any anecdotal reports to share?